Nearly two weeks after the apocalyptic storm, certain areas of Central Philippines are showing signs of renewed life. In Tacloban City, for example, some businesses have reopened, water is flowing again in some parts, and rubble-clearing is in full swing.
Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez is also said to have reached a detente of sorts with the national government. It is reported that in a meeting brokered by President Aquino himself, Romualdez and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas agreed to set aside their differences and to work more closely to speed up the city’s rehabilitation. This arrangement should have been done way before “Yolanda” did its damage, to prevent the very sort of near-paralysis that led to the Aquino administration’s phlegmatic first efforts at responding to the storm’s devastation.
But better late than never. That new pledge of better cooperation will be tested once the reconstruction of Tacloban begins in earnest. If Malacañang has learned anything from the public-relations disaster it found itself in, then it should be this: that it cannot lead from behind, especially in the crucial first hours when the nation expects it to seize the moment.
As with the storm’s aftermath, so with the reconstruction. Even as relief operations continue and more than a million people must still be fed and tended to, the rehabilitation of Leyte and other affected provinces must also become a priority for the government. And not just the haphazard, slapdash rebuilding that’s often been done in the past, but one that now takes into account the grim reality that Yolanda has brought with it.
Seaside cities and towns that lie in the path of typhoons barreling in from the Pacific must now decide whether they want to rebuild in their old locations—and perhaps risk another cataclysmic event should another storm of similar dimensions revisit them. Scientists are warning that Yolanda is but the beginning of ever more destructive natural calamities—the result of climate change disrupting the earth’s old weather patterns. (This is not the first time Tacloban experienced something like this; according to an old Washington Herald report unearthed by enterprising social media denizens, in 1897 it also got clobbered by a storm that claimed some 7,000 lives.)
The game-changing character of Yolanda—the worst storm on record, and the first of its kind to hit land anywhere in the world, swamping whatever preparations the local and national governments had put in place—was cited by the Aquino administration to plead for understanding for its disorganized, deer-in-the-headlights response in the first hours and days. But now that they have an idea of what’s at stake, government planners and policymakers must henceforth insist that postcalamity rehabilitation take into account the constraints of the fearsome new world the country is facing.
For instance, typhoon-vulnerable provinces will have to build better evacuation centers, much sturdier and further inland where storm surges would not be able to reach them. If they have learned their lessons, local government units should ensure that new infrastructure strictly adhere to building codes and zonal regulations. No more substandard stuff—generally the result of rigged contracts and kickbacks. The jumbled, pell-mell reconstruction of battered areas will only result in more of the same: a dense population crammed into a poorly-planned habitat, immensely complicating the task of, say, mass evacuation in the face of yet another mighty typhoon.
The government need not do it alone. The altruistic spirit displayed by the private sector in Yolanda’s wake should be channeled into private-public partnerships that can help speed up the task of rebuilding. More importantly, the government working hand in hand with local businesses should result in jobs generated for the survivors of the calamity. As they begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, these survivors would need much more than food doles to reclaim their dignity. They need help not only to bury and mourn their dead and feed and clothe their children, but also, in time, to rebuild their homes and find meaningful work that would allow them to free themselves of mendicancy and begin living productive, self-sufficient lives again.
Yolanda’s unprecedented devastation brings with it the opportunity to start again—and to start right this time. Memo to Malacañang: Dropping the ball is not an option.
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